Focus on the Problem and Don’t be a Magpie

Robots, in any field, elicit a level of curiosity and excitement that most technologies fail to provoke, and in the care sector it is no different. Increasingly there are individuals and organisations with the vision and drive to break new ground, and as this excitement builds it is salient to learn from other industries so that the appetite translates into progress.

Robots are exciting and shiny, and shiny things have a habit of distracting from the real issues. Before getting started, you need to be clear on the problem that you are looking to solve, then identify and develop a solution to address this problem. Succeeding in “having a robot” whilst impressive, will ultimately have less impact than demonstrating improved outcomes for individuals, carers, care workers and organisations – and it is the latter that will entice future investment in robotics for the sector.

Believe the hype

Acceptance, or even better desire, from users is fundamental to the successful adoption of technology. Key to this is the language we use. As a nation, we’ve embraced smart speakers, the digital assistant, into our homes and need to unlock the same acceptance levels for similar technology in the care sector.

Saying “robots in care” can conjure up negative images which presents an uphill struggle for user acceptance. But talking to people about a device that can help them transfer a loved one into bed without risking straining their back has the opposite effect - people are almost begging for solutions that will help them: “I needed that on Tuesday when Mum fell, where can I get it from?”.

Get the fundamentals right and only then get started

Inventing a robot from scratch is beyond the appetite and – quite understandably – the ability of most care providers. But laying the groundwork for success in robotics is within the sector’s reach and is fundamental to delivering real benefits. For example:

  • Clean up your processes to drive efficiencies. If the processes you’re seeking to automate using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are poorly designed, then you won’t realise the scale of efficiencies possible – it’s the RPA equivalent of ‘Rubbish in, rubbish out’.
  • Get your finances in order. If you don’t have a sustainable financial model for the use of socially assistive or physically assistive robots, then they won’t get past a pilot phase – or at very best it will stumble from phase to phase with resource focussed on securing piecemeal funding, and not on driving long term success.
  • Invest in engagement. User, carer and workforce engagement will make or break an implementation programme, and more widely engaging senior stakeholders in your strategy and plans will help as you navigate the hitherto relatively unchartered waters of robotic deployment.

 

The care sector is starting to dip its toe into the world of robotics. There are clear needs that robots could help address, and there are individuals in the sector with the enthusiasm to drive progress. Early efforts must be successful to attract further funding, and success will come from getting the fundamentals right, but there’s no point denying that the quest for something shiny is a helpful motivation.

 

Rhian Williamson is a public services and adult social care expert at PA Consulting. PA Consulting are welcome sponsors of ADASS which  furthers our charitable objectives’.